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Story of My Life (One Direction)

One Direction bring new meaning to nostalgia. New sound... more mature. Loving, living life and looking back while looking ahead, and holding on with nothing in between. You can’t stop time, and that’s something we all learn from experience.

The video features some of the band's family members; Malik's sister, Harry Styles's mother, Payne's parents and sisters, Niall Horan's brother and Louis Tomlinson's grandparents. It starts in a dark room with the band developing photos. Afterwards, certain family photos for each member are shown, and the photos morph into the same family members doing a current recreation of the photos.

Written in these walls are
The stories that I can't explain
I leave my heart open
But it stays right here empty for days

She told me in the morning
She don't feel the same about us in her bones
It seems to me that when I die
These words will be written on my stone

And I'll be gone, gone tonight,
The ground beneath my feet is open wide,
The way that I been holdin' on too tight
With nothin' in between.

The story of my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm
And time.... is frozen (the story of, the story of)
The story of my life, I give her hope
I spend her love until she's broke inside
The story of my life (the story of, the story of)

Written on these walls are
The colours that I can't change
I leave my heart open
But it stays right here in its cage.

I know that in the morning now
I'll see us in the light upon a hill
Although I am broken
My heart is untamed still.

And I'll be gone, gone tonight
The fire beneath my feet is burning bright
The way that I've been holdin' on so tight
With nothing in between.

The story of my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm and time
Is frozen (the story of, the story of)
The story of my life, I give her hope
I spend her love until she's broke inside
The story of my life (the story of, the story of)

And I been waiting for this time to come around
But, baby, runnin' after you is like chasing the clouds.

The story o' my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm
And time... is frozen.

The story of my life, I  give her hope
I spend her love until she's broke inside
The story of my life (the story of)
The story of my life
The story of my life
The story of my life

To understand the lyrics first read under the MEANING tab

Phonetics: Notice the different pronunciations of the /t/ sound, for example the first word, WRITTEN is pronounced with a glottal stop (down in your throat, not with the tip of the tongue) /rɪʔn/ and in the next line you find the usual pronunciation of the T between vowels as a quick /d/ (compulsory in AmE but just a colloquial variation in BrE).

STORY= /stɔ:rɪ/ In this song, "the stories" from his past are not expressed with words, but with photographs.

CAN'T= /kænʔ/ In standard British English the pronunciation of this is usually /kɑ:nʔ/, but many times we hear /kænʔ/ (as in AmE). Anyway, we can't confuse CAN'T with CAN, because the pronunciation of CAN would be /kən/, and not /kæn/. So be careful, because if you say /kæn/ people will think you are saying the negative CAN'T. Confused? Watch this video.

I LEAVE MY HEART OPEN= I want to love other people.

FOR= Notice that he says /fə/, not /fɔ:*/. That is what we call a "weak form". Most grammatical words (prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, articles, etc.) have a weak form (often with a /ə/) that we use when it is inside a sentence, and then a strong form (the one you can find in a dictionary) which we use to name the word, or when it is stressed. Read more about it here: Strong vs Weak Forms.

SHE DON'T FEEL= Obviously, it should be "She doesn't feel", but in colloquial English it is not uncommon to use the third person singular the same as the others, and say things such as "She love me / She don't love me".

IN HER BONES= If you feel something in your bones, you can’t explain it, you don’t really know why, but that’s the way you feel deep inside.

STONE= Tombstone. The stone they put on your tomb (grave) when you die, usually written with your name and an epitaph, which is a sentence that expresses something very important for you or about your life. So if her words will be written on his tombstone, he means that those words will be so important for him that he will never be able to forget them, and when he dies, those words will still be there, with him, forever. Connecting her words with his death is also a sign that those words feel to him like death, so they hurt a lot, they make him extremely sad.

I’ll be gone= I will leave.

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET IS OPEN WIDE= I am totally free, with infinite possibilities ahead.
BENEATH = Under.
OPEN WIDE= Totally open, as open as can be.

I BEEN= (coll.) I've been.
In colloquial English the auxiliary verb HAVE in the present perfect may be left out, so we only use the past participle.
- Hi mate, where you been?
- I never eaten paella before.

If the past participle is different from the simple past (as in many irregular verbs) we can easily still see that it is a present perfect, but if both forms are the same (as in all regular verbs) it looks like a simple past:
- She gone out (= she's gone out) go-went-gone
- It's not here, I put it in the garage (= I have put it? I put it?) put-put-put
This is much more common in AmE than in BrE

HOLDING ON= If you are holding on to something, you don’t want to lose it or let it go.

NOTHING= /nʌθɪŋ/

THE STORY OF MY LIFE= This phrase has two meanings:
1- literal: This is the story of my life = I’m telling you the story of my life.
2- expression: This is what always happens to me, again and again:
- I loved him a lot, but he used me and then disappeared. That’s the story of my life (= Every time I love someone, it is always the same thing).

TO KEEP HER WARM= To make her happy.

FROZEN= If time is frozen, it stops, it doesn’t change. Of course time can’t get frozen, but we are talking about our feeling: we feel as if time stopped and things don’t change, they remain the same as they were.

I GIVE HER HOPE= I tell her words that make her think that things will be better (or will stay good) in the future.

I SPEND HER LOVE UNTIL SHE’S BROKE INSIDE= This is a metaphor. There are two verbs here, and they are both normally related to money:
- to spend= to give money to buy things.
- Broke= This is not really a past participle, but an adjective. The verb is BREAK-BROKE-BROKEN, but the old-fashioned past participle BROKE is now used with the meaning of WITH NO MORE MONEY. If you spend all your money, you are broke and you have no more money left.
But here we’re not talking about money, we are talking about LOVE. He is talking about love as if it were a currency (like pounds or euros), that is why he says SPEND and BROKE. The idea probably is that he uses (spends) all of her love, because she loves him so much that she gives him all her love till she has no more left, so she gets "broke".

COLOURS= /kʌləz/ (AmE COLORS /kɒlərz/) here it is a metaphor for memories, experiences or maybe even personality traits.

RIGHT HERE= Exactly in this place.
We can use RIGHT to emphasize adverbs of time and space:
- I want it right here, right now!

I’LL SEE US IN THE LIGHT UPON (= on) A HILL= This "us" could be "the story of my life and me" or could be “we, the One Direction band”, so “I'll see us in the light" is talking about the time when he will stop being sad (the night) and feel happy again (the day, the light), and then, he will see that they are "upon a hill”: living in fame. Now they are famous, they are as visible, everybody knows them… but that is not love. That’s why he feels broken. So he is not talking about how miserable his life is, he is talking about a moment of nostalgia, o time for missing his family, but that time will soon pass and he will carry on. Now, in the dark of the night, he misses his family and his past life, but "tomorrow", in the light, he will enjoy again his new life, his fame.

BROKEN= Devastated, really sad (compare to the BROKE we saw before)

HEART= /hɑ:*t/ The organ that pumps blood around your body, usually used as a metaphor for the place where love resides.

UNTAMED= Wild. Tamed animals are cows, dogs, sheep or any animal taught to be nice and leave peacefully with humans. An untamed animal is still wild, it has not been tamed… yet. With this, he means that he is still young and wild, and though he feels empty, because he needs love and his family, his youth is pulling him away, his desire for freedom being too strong to refrain. And this is the conflict that is tearing him apart, this is… the story of his life.

THE FIRE BENEATH MY FEET IS BURNING BRIGHT= (beneath = under) If something is burning bright, it is burning with a very strong fire. That “fire” is his passion for life, for fame, for freedom, the very thing that is keeping him away from everything he really loves (family and friends). The expression “The ground beneath my feet is open wide” is a common poetical expression, but this other expression, “The fire beneath my feet is burning bright” is not a common English expression, but it is tailored in the image of the other one. If you have a fire under your feet, you must run or your feet will get burnt. In the same way, this expressions says that he feels as if there is a fire under his feet, the exciting fire of life and fame, and he has no option but running forwards (and away from home).
FIRE= Notice the pronunciation /fɑ:ə/. The "perfect" pronunciation should be /faɪə*/, but the triphthongs /aɪə/ and /aʊə/ are both very often pronounced /ɑ:ə/ in modern English, especially in BrE.

COME AROUN= (BrE) If something comes around, it happens again, it comes back.

CHASING= If you chase something, you run after it in order to catch it.
- I saw a lion chasing a gazelle.
The clouds are not solid, they are impossible to catch, so chasing the clouds is trying to get something which is impossible.

THE STORY O' MY LIFE= In colloquial English (especially in AmE) we often hear O' /ə/ instead of OF /əv/.

Under a superficial look, this song sounds like just another song about heartbreak. We had a life together, lots of memories, but one morning you said you didn’t love me anymore and left, and now I miss you so much but there’s nothing I can do. And this is what they want you to think at first, that's why you find these words in the second paragraph:

She told me in the morning
She don't feel the same about us in her bones


But if we look at the song carefully we may find something kind of shocking. It is, yes, a song about love, heartbreak and memories, but the SHE in the song is not his lover… it’s his family! What he is trying to say in this song is that he misses his family so much that it hurts, but he has to carry on with his wonderful and exciting new life. He loves his life, but his terribly misses his past life, and the conflict is killing him.

If you are blinking in disbelieve, have a closer look at the video images, it’s all there (the families there are the real families of the band members). And if you still don’t believe it, here is what Zayn said about the meaning behind Story of My Life:

"I think the main message that we were trying to say with that song is that, just how important all the individual memories are in your life that make up, uhm, as it were, the story of your life. And, yeah, just exactly what each individual piece of your life means to you and how important it is to you. Obviously, before we were in the band, our family and friends were a big part of our life so we tried to show that a lot, we just tried to talk about relationships with people that are important to us."

 


So all the song is like a roller-coaster, a series of ups and downs, where he tells us how wonderful his new life is and how terribly he misses his family and past life. Up and down, up and down. At the end we are left with the idea that he doesn't know which feeling is stronger, excitement or regret, but all through the song we can see how much he (they) still loves his family.

Let’s break up the lyrics and see what they hold inside:

Written in these walls are
The stories that I can't explain


A reference to the photographs from the past (with family members, as you can see on the video). Every photograph is telling a story, and it is a story about feelings, about love, something that you CAN’T EXPLAIN.

I leave my heart open
But it stays right here empty for days


He is starting a new life full of fame and new “friends”, but away from his family.  He tries to love new people “I leave my heart open”, but his true love lies in the past, with his family, so sometimes he feels empty inside.

She told me in the morning
She don't feel the same about us in her bones


We will later see that this SHE is his memories, his past life or/ and his family (or it could be "his mother", as a symbol of all his family love in the childhood). It is not that she said she doesn’t love him any more, but she says that their relationship is not the same, it has changed, they are more distant. And that hurts him so much that those words will echo inside his mind for the rest of his life, until the day he dies:

It seems to me that when I die
These words will be written on my stone
(= my tombstone)

He remembers when he left home to start a new life of freedom

And I'll be gone, gone tonight,
The ground beneath my feet is open wide
The way that I been holdin' on too tight
With nothin' in between.

But he can't leave his past behind, all those memory haunt him, and he misses his family so much that he talks about his past, about "the story of his life" as if it were a lover, a "she". So to keep her warm, to keep his memories vivid, he drives all night and goes back home, and when he gets there, with his family, he feels as if time had stopped and nothing had changed:

The story of my life, I take her home
I drive all night to keep her warm
And time.... is frozen


When he is at home again, he feels as if he could get his old life and people back again:

The story of my life, I give her hope

But that’s not really possible, it’s too late, now he has grown up and can't live at home any more, he needs to fly and live his life. That past family life gave him all it had to give, which was a lot, but now "the bank of love" is empty for him because now he can't find everything he needs at home, so the "bank" is broke (with no more money):

I spend her love until she's broke inside
The story of my life (the story of, the story of)


But yet, he says again that his true love, the one that makes his heart truly warm, is imprisoned in his past, with his family, like a bird that cannot leave its cage.

Written on these walls are
The colours that I can't change
I leave my heart open
But it stays right here in its cage.

And then, he looks on the other side of his life: freedom, riches, fame... and it doesn't look that bad after all. He feels torn between his new life and his old life, but he also feels young, untamed, feels fire under his feet so he can't stay, and decides to leave his memories behind and move forward.

I know that in the morning now
I'll see us in the light upon a hill
Although I am broken
My heart is untamed still.

And I'll be gone, gone tonight
The fire beneath my feet is burning bright
The way that I've been holdin' on so tight
With nothing in between.


And in the last lines of the song he realizes that he will never be able to get his past back. He was very excited about coming back home, but even his house and family is not the same for him now, all his cherished memories are still in the past, and they will never come back. The "Baby" here is, again, the story of his life:

And I been waiting for this time to come around
But, baby, runnin' after you is like chasing the clouds


That’s why the song is a tribute to his family and all the love he had in the past, but at the end we are left with a deep feeling of nostalgia, because things can never be the same, no matter how much he wants it to be the same. Running after his childhood and all the love and security he had back then, is like chasing the clouds. Just a dream. Ouch. Let's move on.


Yet another possibility is that since different boys sing different parts of the song, everyone of them is talking about a different thing, so here we have many different stories, the same as we have many different photographs. If this is true, the song is broken up into many different messages, having all in common that those things, for every one of the, is "the story of my life" (what happens to me all the time). In that case the song would lose intensity, and it wouldn't match well with the video, which shows a common line for everyone, always connected to each one's family. So I don't think this interpretation is right, though not impossible.


And last, many people insist that this is all about a relationship with a girl who broke up with him. In this case the video would have absolutely no connection with the song and the lyrics or with the interpretations hinted by the band members (as we saw above), so this interpretation, no matter how popular, is clearly wrong. Nevertheless, I think that the lyrics are probably written in a way that makes people think about this boy-girl story of love, probably because they wanted people to get whatever message they preferred, although when the video was released, that interpretation was proved at fault.

 
 
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